Most people know of classical wedding music when it is played at weddings, but do you the stories behind them? A few summers ago, I had the chance to attend my friend’s wedding as a guest. As I sat amongst the other guests, I realized that the last time I attended a wedding as guest (without any kind of wedding task) was close to ten years ago.
As we were waiting for the ceremony to begin, something caught my attention. It was the pianist who was playing background music – a medley of love songs from Disney cartoons, to praise choruses and some classical instrumental pieces. A while later, the bride enters and the music shifted to another song. As I watched my friend walk down the aisle, my heart was full and was touched as the lyrics and melody matched perfectly to her story. This, is the power of music.
I have always had a love for classical musical history and thought it would be interesting to share the stories behind some of the popular classical music pieces that are played at weddings. Just as we draw inspiration from different elements like music and food, behind every piece of music, there is a story that the composers draw inspiration from.
The Stories behind Classical Wedding Music
1. Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin by Richard Wagner
Commonly known as “Here Comes the Bride” or the “Bridal March” this tune is probably one of the first tunes we heard as a child and associate with weddings. Mostly used when the bride enters as she walks down the aisle, it has become a classic processional piece for many brides.
The Story – A knight and a swan
Lohengrin is a story that starts off with a female lead Elsa, who is accused of murdering her brother, Gottfried. She shares her dream about a knight who saves her. This knight appears on a boat drawn by swans. As they are figuring out the disappearance of Gottfried, a knight does appear and Elsa agrees to marry him if he wins the battle. The knight however has one condition – Elsa cannot ask for his name or where he is from.
The knight wins the battle and they get married and the Bridal Chorus that we are all familiar with is played to usher the bride into her bridal chamber. The accusers and enemies continues to try to get rid of the knight and another battle starts and after they are killed, the knight reveals who he is. The knight’s name is Lohengrin and his home is in the temple of the Holy Grail. He says goodbye and leaves on his swan. As he departs, he prays and the swan turns back into Gottfried. The story ends with Elsa dying from grief.
Rise to Fame
Even before the bridal chorus became popular, Lohengrin is most performed out of Wagner’s operas. The rise to fame of the bridal chorus happened when Princess Victoria married Prince Frederick William of Prussia in 1858.
This video showcases the Lohengrin opera. To hear the song, start at 4:30.
2. Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Felix Mendelssohn
Another common song, this piece is often used as a recessional song. Similar to Wagner’s Bridal Chorus, whenever listeners hear this piece, they often associate it with weddings.
The Story – Fairies and Love Potion
Many of us are familiar with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. This whimsical story of love and fairies was centered around the start as two lovers preparing for their wedding. In 1842, King Frederick William IV of Prussia asked Mendelssohn to compose incidental music (in today’s terminology – a soundtrack) for this play.
The Wedding March is set to the final scene of the play when everyone is gathered for the celebration and marriage of the Queen of Amazon and the Duke of Athens.
Rise to Fame
The royals always had their influence on wedding trends and the rise to fame of the wedding march is also linked to Princess Victoria’s wedding, where the bride’s mother loved Mendelssohn’s music.
Played by one of the world’s best and one of our favorite orchestras – Berliner Philharmonica.
3. Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring by J.S. Bach
A personal favorite of ours and from one of our favorite composers of all times, this song is so graceful, elegant and beautiful that it warms my heart every time I hear it. Although it is not as conventional as the Bridal Chorus as a processional, this piece has become popular for many brides.
The Story – Mary and Elizabeth
This famous piece is part of Bach’s cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (Heart and mouth and deed and life). A cantata is a type of musical composition that usually involves a choir and instrumental accompaniment. This particular cantata is based on when Mary visits Elizabeth in the Gospel of Luke.
Below is a snippet of the original lyrics that accompanies this beautiful melody.
Jesu, meiner Seelen Wonne, Jesus, delight of my soul,
Jesu, meine beste Lust, Jesus, my best pleasure,
Jesu, meine Freudensonne, Jesus, my sun of joy,
Jesu, dir ist ja bewußt, Jesus, it is well known to you
wie ich dich so herzlich liebe how I love you from my heart
und mich ohne dich betrübe. and am distressed without you.
Drum o Jesu komm zu mir Therefore O Jesus come to me
und bleib bei mir für und für! and stay with me forever and ever.
Source: See here.
Rise to Fame
This song became more well known as the cantata was popular and other composers and musicians started arranging this song to be played on various instruments which made the song more accessible for other musical occasions.
A beautiful interpretation of this song by two female singers. The lyrics sung in this video is the popular version of lyrics (different from above) that the public usually associates with.
4. The Arrival of Queen of Sheba from Solomon by George Handel
It is not surprising that this joyful and bright music selection is a popular choice for wedding ceremonies. The song complements the title and character of the Queen of Sheba.
The Story – Wisdom and Riches
This oratorio of Solomon focuses on the famous stories of King Solomon from the Bible. From his reign of the rebuilding of the temple, to the famous case of the two women claiming to be the mother of the child. This song starts at Act 3 when the Queen of Sheba, a queen known for her riches arrives to visit King Solomon.
Rise to Fame
This piece has always been a well known classical piece and in the past few years brides have started adopting the song to be used at weddings. It has also been used at the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games in 2012.
A lovely performance at one of our favourite music festivals – BBC Proms.
A Musical Touch
Many couples often choose music that represents their story. Just like the wedding I attended, my friend chose a medley of songs to represent her love story. Likewise, these classical wedding music stories reflect the inspiration that the composer drew from.
Music has a special place in our hearts so for every wedding and event, we believe that music is a component that not only shares a story but an element that sets the ambience. With the right piece of music, it can touch people, and brings weddings to a different level.